Long-Distance Family: Staying Connected Across the Miles

Nearly a decade ago, my family left Wisconsin, drove our minivan 1,500 miles to Montana, dropped me at my dorm, waved goodbye, and drove 1,500 miles home. I’m not sure what I did after they left, but it likely involved moping about and feeling lonely.

I eventually adjusted to my new surroundings, but I still missed aspects of life with my family, like game nights, family dinners, and daily banter. Since college, I’ve moved numerous times—sometimes closer to my family, other times not so much. While I am a firm supporter of consistent contact through weekly phone calls, responding to silly group texts, and homemade cards for every occasion, I realized this communication could be expanded upon. Over the past few years, my family and I have developed creative tactics to stay close with one another even when miles loomed between us. 

Care packages and letters

During my first year of college, Skype was in its infancy. Texting was a luxury my $27-per-month phone plan did not support. Cell phone calls revolved around time zone calculations and free minutes during nights and weekends.

Luckily, the U.S. Postal Service stepped in and played a massive role in helping me stay connected with family. Relatives sent me notes and tiny gifts each month. My grandma baked pounds of chocolate-caramel bars that I hefted up dorm stairs to share with friends. In honor of finals week, my dad made me a terrific mix CD of funk music, which arrived at my door courtesy of USPS.

These small, tangible slivers connected me to a life I’d physically left behind, but a life I was still emotionally a part of.

Now, years after graduation, I still lean heavily on Forever stamps and USPS to stay close to those I love. I keep a stack of pre-stamped envelopes next to my bed. A collection of pens sits close by. A recent watercoloring phase resulted in a plethora of mediocre paintings, each of which was turned into a greeting card and sent off to everyone I knew.  

Sending little gifts and letters to people back home is a great way to stay connected. They require an extra dose of thought not typically found through texting, social media, or email. Plus, letters are relatively cheap, and they are pleasant surprises to find in the mailbox.

Skype ‘n’ Scattergories

Snail mail is a terrific way to stay in touch, but it does lack immediacy. My family wanted other ways to stay connected with one another and we started brainstorming solutions.   

All of us are fiercely competitive when it comes to games. My childhood home overflows with decks of cards, badminton racquets, and board games. Despite the distance, our competitive natures have remained strong. It seemed like a shame to let distance interfere with competition, so a few years ago, my family turned to Skype to keep the competitive spirit alive.

Skype ‘n’ Scattergories was born.

On the day of the event, one family member will email a few Scattergories lists to everyone else, the family logs into a group Skype call, and the game begins. It’s an all-around good time with plenty of shouting and accusations of cheating.

My family might be scattered throughout the country, but every month for an hour or two, it’s like we’re all together in the living room.

The siblings’ change fund

When not playing Skype ‘n’ Scattergories, I like to use simple, daily actions to keep my family in my thoughts.  

Last summer, my parents kindly notified me that their attic, which I’d liberally been using as free storage throughout my entire life, would be closing its doors. Among the items returned to me were several shoeboxes full of CDs, two turntables, and one very large glass milk jug of loose change.

I shoved the CDs in my closet and gifted the turntables to better music lovers than I, but I wasn’t sure what to do with the glass bottle full of change. The bottle sat in my room for a number of months until my sister visited for Thanksgiving.

During her visit, we spied the bottle of change, hustled to the grocery store, turned the change into bills, and went out to eat.

Over sandwiches, we seized upon an idea. That change had felt a lot like free money. What if we each saved our change and spent it only when all the siblings were together?

My siblings and I each own change jars now, adding to them and keeping one another updated on their statuses throughout the year. Every time I have a spare quarter or two, I think of my family as I drop it into the jar, and when we do see each other, we dump a few handfuls of change out and treat ourselves to something nice.

Moving away from people you love dearly is never easy. Even after you’ve adjusted to new surroundings, it can still feel like something is missing. While little tactics like the ones above can’t fill every void, they’ve helped me stay a little closer to my family. Plus, there’s something pretty satisfying about beating everyone at Scattergories from 1,500 miles away.    

Kat Franchino

Kat Franchino hails from Wisconsin, a land of long winters and hearty folks. She graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in photojournalism. In 2014, Kat spent three months living with Catholic Sisters, which kick-started her quest to learn more about her Catholic faith. She is a freelance writer and the Marketing & Grant Writing Coordinator at the YMCA in Missoula. You can find her work at myotherbackyard.wordpress.com.